Shooting estates to require licences, under Scottish Government plans
Grouse shooting estates will need a licence to operate, under new plans put forward by the Scottish Government in response to concerns over raptor persecution.
The proposals come after the Werritty Review recommended a licensing regime should be introduced if estates were unable to demonstrate a reduction in wildlife crime.
The report was commissioned after Scottish Natural Heritage reported that a third of satellite tagged golden eagles had disappeared suspiciously.
The Scottish Greens criticised the move, claiming the Scottish Government had allowed the shooting industry to decide on its own system of regulation, while landowners body Scottish Land and Estates claimed the decision would jeopardise fragile rural communities.
Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said: “Grouse moor management is a complex issue, attracting strong views and public interest.
“Having given full consideration to the recommendations of the Grouse Moor Management Group, alongside a wealth of other evidence and research, I have concluded that greater oversight of the practices associated with grouse moor management is necessary.
“The majority of those tasked with managing land already follow best practice guidance and care deeply about the countryside and the land that they manage.
“I cannot, though, ignore the fact that some of the practices associated with grouse moor management, such as muirburn and the use of medicated grit, have the potential to cause serious harm to the environment, if the correct procedures are not followed.
“Neither can I ignore the fact that, despite our many attempts to address this issue, every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors.
“The changes that I have announced today strike what I believe is the right balance. They are not designed to bring an end to grouse shooting.
“Indeed those businesses which comply with the law should have no problems at all with licensing.
“But, crucially, where there is clear evidence that this is not happening, where agreed standards are not being adhered to or there is evidence of illegal raptor persecution, there will be a range of effective and transparent mechanisms in place to allow us to address such behaviour."
But the decision came under fire from the Scottish Greens.
Mark Ruskell said: “It’s very disappointing that after 150 years of wildlife being mass killed on Scottish moors, delays to the watered-down Werritty report and the Scottish Government dragging its heels for another year, all we have is a consultation on licensing which will be drawn up by the industry. It’s like putting arsonists in charge of a fire station.
“Horrifyingly, by delaying protections for mountain hares to March, they’ve given the green light for the biggest mass killing of hares in the next open season.
“Although the SNP and Tories blocked the declaration last week, the evidence shows that Scotland has a nature emergency, with one in nine species at threat of extinction.
“In that context, it is outrageous that up to a fifth of Scotland’s land is kept barren for a bloodsport which causes enormous damage, kills other species and burns valuable peatland.”
Meanwhile, in a joint statement, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates condemned the move.
The statement said: “We are dismayed that the Scottish Government has not listened to the voice of some of our most fragile communities which are at the heart of a world class rural business sector.
“People involved in grouse shooting have already embraced a huge amount of legislation, regulation and guidance to make sure the highest standards are met.
“This includes estates embracing many of the recommendations contained within the Werritty report.
“Instead, the Scottish Government has paved the way for a very uncertain future for many rural people by announcing that it intends to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors which interferes with legitimate business activities and threatens to engulf the sector in a blizzard of red tape that is unprecedented and out of all proportion.”